@shareski’s Right: My Students CAN Assess Themselves!

If you've read the Radical for any length of time, you know that my thinking is often pushed by Dean Shareski — a Digital Learning Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. 

What I love about Dean's posts is that they're a perfect mix of practical and provocative ideas.  He's just as likely to challenge my instruction as he is to challenge my thinking — and that's cool. 

A few weeks ago, Dean wrote about the role that self-assessment plays in the university classes that he teaches. 

His central premise was one that struck home:  Traditional grading practices centered around teachers collecting student papers and giving letter grades with little real feedback — the kind of practices that are uncomfortably common in my classroom — are failing our students. 

Near the end, he issued a challenge:

"So I'm wondering if you're ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them? If not, is it about trust? Is it about readiness? Fear?

I'm thinking that even 6 year olds should be able to assess themselves. If we give them the tools and expectations."

I decided to take Dean's challenge to heart this week, giving my students the chance to assess themselves on two assignments that were due

"There won't be ANY grade attached to these tasks," I explained.  "Instead, you are going to evaluate yourselves.  Then, you will get feedback from me on the first assignment and a peer on the second assignment."

I gave students handouts designed to guide their thinking as they evaluated their own performance.  Both of the handouts included a series of structured questions that forced kids to look closely at the kind of criteria that define accomplished performance.

Check them out here:

Download Handout_MetaphoricalSelfAssessment

Download Handout_OWISelfAssessment

Then I turned the kids loose. I gave them about 7 minutes to fill out each column on the self-assessment handouts we were working with.  Combined with a bit of introduction to each of the questions, self-assessing each task took about 40-45 minutes worth of class time.

I learned a TON about student self-assessment during my experiment.  Here are a few of my favorite lessons:

The VAST majority of my kids reported NEVER taking the time to systematically assess their own work in ANY subject or ANY grade level before our classroom experiment

I asked my kids when we started our self-assessments how often they spent time evaluating the quality of their work before they turned it in.  Most reported that they NEVER self-assessed simply because they (1). didn't have time for self-assessment, (2). didn't really think that self-assessment was important or (3). weren't really sure what "self-assessment" looked like in action.

That was a shocker to me because I just assumed that EVERY kid carefully looked at their work before turning it in.  After all, that's the kind of thing that accomplished learners do naturally, right?

Here's the thing:  Our kids AREN'T accomplished learners yet.  We need to teach them how to evaluate the quality of their own work in the same way that we need to teach them how to complete equations or write solid paragraphs.

#lessonlearned

 

The VAST majority of my kids gave themselves accurate feedback when assessing their own work.

In my skeptical moments over the past week, I assumed that my kids weren't going to have the skills to rate their own work reliably.  After all, what do THEY know about quality work, right?  They're ONLY 12 — and I have a degree. 

In my REALLY skeptical moments over the past week, I assumed that my kids wouldn't even be HONEST with themselves when they were assessing their own work.  After all, would YOU tell the truth about crappy work if YOU were 12?

The good news is that my kids proved me wrong.  Not only were they honest when assessing their own work, the feedback that they gave to themselves — the strengths and weaknesses that they identified and the suggestions for improvement that they offered — was AT LEAST as good as the feedback that I would have offered.

That probably means that I really CAN trust them to be evaluators of their own work — which MIGHT mean that I can spend less time killing myself to give them formal feedback on every task that I assign.

#lessonlearned

 

The VAST majority of my kids enjoyed giving and receiving feedback from their peers MORE than receiving feedback from me.

The difference between our first and second attempts at self-assessment was simple:  After the first task, I collected student self-assessments and gave each student individual feedback myself.  After the second task, students partnered with a peer and gave one another feedback.

When I asked my kids which approach they liked the best, they almost unanimously chose receiving feedback from their peers — and their reasoning was sound:  They got MORE feedback from their peers AND they got that feedback immediately.

"You only wrote me two sentences, Mr. F" one of my favorite boys told me, "and it took you a WEEK to give me my paper back.  That's not very helpful!"

And he's right:  It DID take me over a week to get feedback to my students — and even after spending 8 hours of planning time on that task alone, I was only able to give each kid 2 or 3 sentences of feedback.  That's what happens when you have 120 kids on your student load.

While relying on peer evaluation still seems sketchy to me — after all, the quality of feedback that a student receives is completely dependent on the quality of the peer that they are working with — I'm more confident than ever after seeing the kinds of feedback that students gave themselves that peer feedback can play at least SOME role in our classroom.

#lessonlearned

 

The VAST majority of my kids wanted to give themselves a number rating anyway.

One of the most interesting trends that I saw in the feedback that my students gave themselves was that they were CONSTANTLY slipping numbers into their self-assessment.  Statements like, "I would rate my work a 3 out of 5," or "I would give myself an 80 for this" were sprinkled everywhere.

What's more, when we talked as a class about what my kids liked and disliked about self-assessment, more than a few students mentioned that the thing they liked the least was NOT having a final number to refer to.  "I just want to know what I would have earned," they'd say. 

#oldhabits

#hardtobreak

#lessonlearned

 

For the amount of time that I spent on this activity, it was hard NOT to put something in the gradebook.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how much I believe in self-assessment, I STILL have to generate a numerical average for the kids in my class. 

As a result, it's REALLY hard to spend the amount of time that I spent on this activity — 2 days of class time and about 8 hours of planning time responding to student feedback — WITHOUT adding something to my gradebook.

#oldhabits

#hardtobreak

#lessonlearned

 

In the end, I was jazzed with our self-assessment experiment — and I'm sure that kind of work will continue to play a role in my classroom

My students loved the fact that they could be honest with themselves about the quality of their work because they didn't need to worry about a grade.  That carries value in and of itself for a guy who is sick of scores being more important than learning something new. 

And I loved the fact that my students were the ones sweating the assessment.  Formative assessment expert Dylan William argues time and again in his work that kids should be working harder than teachers in the assessment process. 

That definitely happened in my room this week.  My kids were genuinely engaged in evaluating their own performance against a set of clearly defined criteria — and that's cool.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Suggestions?

Looking forward to hearing what you think. 

16 thoughts on “@shareski’s Right: My Students CAN Assess Themselves!

  1. Sherryll Kraizer

    I have been developing a series of nonfiction writing prompts for formative assessment and progress monitoring of Common Core writing standards using Marzano’s approach. Elementary students have the standard in front of them and score their writing based on a four point scale,
    4 = writing exceeds standard criteria
    3 = writing meets standard criteria
    2 = writing attempts all standard criteria but does not fully meet expected criteria
    1= writing does not attempt all standard criteria
    Based on this, what are my next steps to improve my writing based on the standard?
    While some schools have been able to embrace this approach, others have struggled not having more traditional rubric that uses imprecise language to describe the levels.
    I will play with this model as a possible middle ground.
    Thanks for the contribution to our thinking!

  2. Janet Abercrombie

    I have found it helpful to hand out a rubric, but not tell them (at first) how the work will be graded. Then, in conferences with students, I ask “How does your work match these descriptors? Can you prove it?”
    The same can be done with learning pairs and groups of 4.
    Since I’m watching all this, my summative grading becomes easy – I take the grades they’ve given themselves (with rare exceptions).

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Paul wrote:
    Now youve got my mind swirling with the possibility of using
    self-assessment for science skills like measurement and data analysis. I
    could see peer observation or review of videotaped activities being
    effective for this. What do you think?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    I love it, Paul. And if I were churning out a project like this, Id use VoiceThread. Think about a video in the center of kids conducting a lab experiment followed by students giving feedback to one another using the commenting features.
    Looking forward to seeing you pull this off. If anyone can, itll be you!
    Rock on,
    Bill
    PS: Kush and Kishan were JAZZED after meeting you the other day.

  4. twitter.com/mrscienceteach

    Thanks for making me think, Bill! Now you’ve got my mind swirling with the possibility of using self-assessment for science skills like measurement and data analysis. I could see peer observation or review of videotaped activities being effective for this. What do you think?

  5. Erika Jordan

    Bill,
    Timely post as I just was at a two-day “Classroom Assessment for Student Learning” refresher session last week. The students are the crucial piece to the assessment puzzle. If you haven’t read or checked out the book I highly recommend it. http://goo.gl/Ewz7F It has changed how I think about assessment. The latest version has some great classroom teacher testimonials and examples for majority of the strategies and concepts. What you did with your students and John’s standards based grid are just some of the great assessment ideas for student learning. I have two copies of the older version if you would like me to send it your way but I highly recommend the 2nd edition.
    I didn’t mean for this comment to be a book sale but your post and this book just make sense in the muddy waters of assessment!

  6. Bendsstructures

    Hi Bill,
    My college students ALWAYS self-assess, then self-assess the self-assessments. I have to show them how much I value this work, so the points they get for doing it are about 1/4-1/3 of the total. My rule is “Take the work seriously and you get full points.” Don’t take it seriously and you get about 2/3 of them plus a note from me specifying what more will qualify you for full points. Always takes only one note.
    At end of term students review all self-assessments and the resulting work then describe in some detail how/whether the self-assessment contributed to their skill as learners. The only depressing bit is when I ask them whether, as they go on, they’ll self-assess in other classes. They all say some version of “No.” It’s a “takes a village” moment for me and I have no village.

  7. Janet Abercrombie

    Yep. Students are pretty honest about their levels and their progress if given the right descriptors and the time to reflect.
    My colleague and I keep discussing how so much student project work ends when students are “done.” If students complete projects three quarters of the way through the unit, self-assess, revise, and then reflect…I think the learning will be greater.
    Janet | expateducator.com

  8. Bill Ferriter

    Ginny wrote:
    Bill, time required for this aside, what an eye-opener. I
    had honestly never thought of teaching the kids what self-assessment
    meant:
    – – – – – – – – –
    Me neither, Ginny — but thats probably not as surprising as you might think. After all, teachers are generally efficient and effective learners themselves. We self-assess without thinking — and we assume that everyone works the same way. We assume that the motivation to do well = the ability to know when youre doing well.
    Thats just not the case for most kids.
    Good thinking with you. I always love to see you in this space!
    Bill

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Bryan asked:
    In my previous career, as a business manager I would often elicit self
    assessments from team members. The thing that always stood out to me was
    that they were almost always more critical than my own assessment. Did
    you notice that same trend with your kids?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    You know, Bryan — Im not sure if the kids were MORE critical than I would have been in their self-assessments. That could just be that Im a pretty critical guy, though!
    But I definitely see this trend when it comes to putting numbers on things. If I would have asked the kids to add a score to their final self-assessments, I bet their scores would have been lower than mine.
    What I find interesting, though, is that its the accomplished kids that are the hardest on themselves. The kids that struggle always seem to have an inflated view of their abilities.
    I wonder if the accomplishment leads to the honesty or its the honesty that leads to the accomplishment.
    Good stuff…
    bill

  10. Bill Ferriter

    John wrote:
    They keep an standards-based grading grid where they record their own
    self-assessment of the standards. Then, once a week, I meet with them
    and we conference on their progress.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    This is a great idea, John. Ive got my kids tracking their own mastery of individual objectives, but I dont meet with them on a regular basis to review their progress. I think my biggest challenge would probably be finding the time for the conferences — or at the very least, finding the time to make the conferences meaningful.
    One of the things that bugged me about this experience was that even after spending more time giving feedback that I typically do, I was still only able to give my kids one or two sentences of feedback. It didnt hardly seem worth it but it damn near killed me in the process!
    Anyway…thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Naomi wrote:
    While I have a lot of issues with the grading system as it stands, that
    system did nothing to push me to strive to improve and to excel.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Most of my students feel similarly, Naomi. They felt strongly that they wouldnt work as hard on tasks if there was no grade attached to them.
    That convinces me that there needs to be some form of balance between grading students and allowing them to give themselves — and their peers — feedback. The fact of the matter is that evaluating your own work is an important skill too — yet all too often we dont bother to show kids what it looks like in action.
    Thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  12. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema)

    I was an elemenaty school child at an open school outside of Boston in the early 70s. We had self assesment sheets which we had to fill out. Then the teacher would add her comments and discuss the whole thing with my parents.
    While I have a lot of issues with the grading system as it stands, that system did nothing to push me to strive to improve and to excel. It was all an atmosphere of “this is who I am, accept me”. I did the things I was good at and elegantly got away with what I wasn’t (which in this case was math. There was no failing grade to make me (and everyone else) face reality – I was not learning math!

  13. John T. Spencer

    I’m a big fan of self-assessment. My students self-assess their work (the projects and assignments) and their learning. They keep an standards-based grading grid where they record their own self-assessment of the standards. Then, once a week, I meet with them and we conference on their progress. They use this, not only for the final grade, but also on the daily intervention and enrichment.

  14. BryanB

    Bill,
    I too am tired of watching my students chase after a number instead of genuine learning. I am planning on evolving into standards based grading in my classroom over the next couple of years. Self and peer assessments seem to be a natural fit for that system, though I don’t recall it being mentioned in my research.
    You said that the vast majority of your students gave accurate feedback. In my previous career, as a business manager I would often elicit self assessments from team members. The thing that always stood out to me was that they were almost always more critical than my own assessment. Did you notice that same trend with your kids?

  15. ginnyp

    Bill, time required for this aside, what an eye-opener. I had honestly never thought of ‘teaching’ the kids what self-assessment meant: Before you turn in that, yes in some cases crappy, essay or project, ask yourself “Is this what I HAD to to? or Is this what I CAN do?” (or is it neither). At lunch today we joked about teaching the kids how to sweep the floor around the lunch tables. In our affluent area, most kids probably never held a broom in their preteen lives. With our over-achiever parents, likewise they never do their own criticism either. They wait for Mom or Dad.. or Mr. F.

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